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Studying Samuel Beckett

by YPU Admin on May 11, 2020, Comments. Tags: English, english literature, Humanities, literature, samuel beckett, and sexuality

Introduction

My name is Eleanor and I am a third year PhD student at the University of Manchester. My research looks at queer sexuality in Samuel Beckett’s work during the 1960s. You might know Samuel Beckett as the playwright who wrote Waiting for Godot, but did you know he was also a novelist, poet, screenwriter, director for both television and film and a short prose writer? My work focuses on the 1960s in particular because Beckett’s work during this period begins to change into something much more minimal (the scenery is often a plain white space, bodies nondescript and their actions often simply breathing and sweating) and, simultaneously, much more gender-fluid.

Here I am giving a paper at the 4th Annual Beckett Society conference in Mexico City.

In Depth

At school, my favourite subjects were English Literature, Religious Studies and Art & Design. I never got on very well with Mathematics or any of the sciences, although now, surprisingly, I find that I am using theories from these disciplines in my work as well! My undergraduate degree was in English Literature at the University of Sussex, and I did a Master's in Comparative Literature at Queen Mary’s, University of London, which allowed me to study a broader range of literature in other languages and in translation—as well as translation theory—and to make more comparisons between subjects, such as comparing literature with music, art and performance.[1] This has helped a great deal with my current studies, as Beckett wrote in both English and French, and did a lot of self-translation, as well as working in aural and visual mediums.

My current research brings queer theory to an area of Beckett Studies to which it is absolutely crucial, while simultaneously allowing this research to reflect back upon the current state of Sexuality Studies.[2] The theoretical work that my thesis has opened up is different from what I had imagined when I started my PhD, but in an exciting way! The journey you take when you study literature can be unpredictable and messy and that’s what I love about it. Often, you will find that literary criticism has been subject to compulsory heterosexuality. This term was coined by groundbreaking feminist scholar Adrienne Rich to explain how society expects, assumes and reinforces heterosexuality as dominant. At its most basic, my work seeks to undo this.

I also work as a Teaching Assistant, which has been an extremely rewarding role and has taught me a great deal. When I graduate, I would like to continue to teach at university level. I work as a Widening Participation Fellow, I am a tutor on the MAP programme, I undertake Research Assistant work, and I am the administrator of the Beckett Society. On top of this, I also have a part-time job as a customer service assistant at an art supplies company. When you do a PhD part-time, you have to keep a very strict calendar, and be very aware of your limits.

Samuel Beckett

Going Further…

The reason that I fell in love with studying literature was theory. Theory is a broad category, which encompasses all sorts of ideas, from feminism and Marxism to deconstruction and psychoanalysis. Some people don’t see theory as very valuable because it doesn’t have a material output, like a science subject might. However, studying literature is important because it examines the bedrock of our lives: not just language itself, but narrative and how it is constructed. In studying literature, you are also able to examine the narratives of productivity that are fed to us by society and find better ways of ascribing value and importance.

A rainbow printed onto the road in the Castro District, San Francisco, ready for Pride celebrations.



[1] Translation theory asks at how best to translate a text – can one translate for both sense and feel? How to make up for the importance of sound and rhythm? How to make up for small but significant differences in meaning and account for cultural context? It has been suggested, for example, that the translation of poetry is impossible.

[2] Queer theory is a broad category of theorizing that foregrounds sexuality and gender, reading texts through a lens that is often denied us in critical theory. Eve Sedgwick, one of the most famous queer theorists, suggests ‘it's about how you can't understand relations between men and women unless you understand the relationship between people of the same gender, including the possibility of a sexual relationship between them.' This is why it is so crucial that queer theory be brought to Beckett Studies, as this has so far been neglected in scholarship.



 

Back to the Future? Look North – It’s Positively Medieval!

by YPU Admin on December 7, 2017, Comments. Tags: literature, medieval, PhD, and Research

Introduction

My name is Gillian and I am an AHRC funded first year PhD candidate at the University of Manchester. The focus of my research is the medieval religious dramas (known as the mystery plays) that originated from areas of the north of England, specifically those associated with the cities of York and Chester, along with those contained in the Towneley manuscript that appear to have some connection with the Wakefield area. I did my undergraduate degree in English Literature at Manchester where my passion for medieval literature soon became apparent. Having achieved a First Class B.A., I went on to study my M.A. in Medieval Studies also at the University of Manchester. Hard work is rewarded at Manchester – I got a scholarship which enabled me to study for a Master’s with all fees waived!

 

In Depth…

Medieval literature may seem rather irrelevant to a modern society, but I believe that there are important challenges that we face today on global levels that have precedent in medieval society. Negotiating borders and boundaries, tensions inherent in religious beliefs and differences, the global economic and environmental challenges we face today – all of these, I contend, were of concern to medieval people who imagined the consequences of these challenges in ways which could appeal to an everyday, non-academic audience. The texts of the religious dramas are, on a very basic level, re-workings of Christian biblical narratives that depict the story of the bible from Creation to Doomsday. But they are also much more than that. People wrote how they spoke well into the seventeenth century (and in some cases well beyond this) and so what you can also tell from these stories is where these plays could have been best understood, in the region in which they were written. They are regional texts written with a preferred audience in mind. Part of the humour which, perhaps surprisingly, runs through these plays, depends upon local dialects – they promote regionalism as a mode of belonging just as much as any religious persuasion. My research is currently investigating the plays’ depiction of Noah and the flood from the three different regional perspectives of York, Chester, and the West Riding of Yorkshire (Wakefield). The questions I am posing are whether the differences between the plays’ dramatization of similar material is influenced by the environment of their production – do they display an acknowledgement of the very real threat of global environmental disaster caused by flooding that is of concern to everyone today? Do they promote inclusive community reaction and therefore action? Or do they display more individual responses that reveal exclusions and self-interest? During the summer months I will be visiting both York and Chester where the plays are being staged again. I want to ask the people who go to see these plays today what they get out of them, why do they still go? Why do the cities still produce these plays? What relevance do they have in today’s society? Can they be produced to appeal to a multi-faith international community, or do the choices taken by the producers of these modern versions maintain notions of civic imperialism and Christian elitism? My research will investigate these plays as transtemporal texts to suggest that each rendering of familiar material has specific differences in order to offer a very regional mode of both belonging and questioning as the following medieval images reveal. The first image is from a manuscript housed in the John Rylands library – look at all the fantastical beasts, and then see how the raven pecks at the eye of the corpse not among the chosen few on Noah’s ark. Were Noah and his family the first boat people, early refugees?

 

 There are twelve people in the image below, but only eight made it onto the ark – go figure!

 

 How do the texts respond to/replicate/question these contemporary images?

Going Further…

(www.inthemedievalmiddle.com) A really useful website detailing the lastest research areas of key medieval scholars and the relevance of medieval literature to modern society.

(www.alc.manchester.ac.uk) A key contact point for all current information regarding entry requirements, course components, etc. in the School of Arts, Languages, and Cultures at the University of Manchester.

(www.luminaruim.org) A veritable treasure trove of free to access information/essays/texts on all things medieval.

(www.medievalsociety.blogspot.co.uk) Blog from the Manchester Medieval Society which is run by current academics who are all at the cutting edge of research in their fields. All are welcome to join and join in!

 

 

Investigating Latin American Culture in Manchester

Introduction

My name is Nicola and I’m in the third year of a PhD in Latin American Cultural Studies. I did A-levels in Spanish, English Literature and History and went on to study Spanish at the University of St Andrews in Scotland, spending my year abroad in the north of Chile. After returning to Chile for another year to teach English, and then doing a Masters in Latin American Cultural Studies at the University of Manchester, I began my PhD which looks at how members of the British public engage with Latin American culture in the city of Manchester.


In Depth

The first thing to point out about studying Spanish (or any language) at university level is that it’s not just about the language! While your language skills are obviously important and will be developed, you will also spend lots of time studying foreign cultures and how other people around the world live and express themselves. This can involve studying literature, film, music, art, history, religion and indigenous cultures. And, in the case of Spanish, you don’t just study Spain, but also Latin America!

After doing my undergraduate degree and Masters, and living in Chile, I found myself particularly interested in how Latin America is perceived in Britain. Latin American culture, such as salsa classes, music, food and films have become popular in this country over the past couple of decades, yet Latin Americans are a relatively small immigrant population in the UK and not many people travel there, although both have started to increase in recent years. My research therefore investigates how Latin American culture is produced in the city of Manchester and how members of the public consume it.

My research focuses in particular on the annual ¡Viva! Spanish and Latin American Film Festival at the Cornerhouse cinema. I analyse how the film festival is produced, the reasons why they choose some films over others, why they choose particular images to publicise the festival. By interviewing members of the audience, I can find out whether these choices influence the way members of the audience envisage Latin America, or if there are other factors to be considered, such as how the media portrays Latin America. My research also investigates what attracts British people to Latin American culture, especially whether it stems from a cosmopolitan concern to understand others around the world, something particular to Latin American culture and/or disenchantment with contemporary British culture and society.


Going Further

See what you think of the ¡Viva! film festival at their website: http://www.cornerhouse.org/viva2014?no-redir

For information on studying Spanish, Portuguese and Latin American Studies at the University of Manchester: http://www.alc.manchester.ac.uk/subjects/splas

For more information on Latin Americans in the UK, you might like to read this report on the Latin American community in London: http://www.geog.qmul.ac.uk/docs/research/latinamerican/48637.pdf


 

Analysing Laughter

by YPU Admin on January 31, 2014, Comments. Tags: literature and Research

Introduction

Hi, I am Alfie, a final year PhD student completing a thesis in Literature and Philosophy at the University of Manchester. My thesis discusses the social and political effects of laughter in various contexts, and the way that laughter can be used and deployed in texts such as literature and film. My other main project is a editing a collective blog and a series of books called Everyday Analysis, which attempts to bring together philosophy and everyday life in new and interesting ways.

I have been at the University of Manchester for eight years, having done an undergraduate degree and a Masters before my PhD.  I teach philosophy, literature and poetry at the University, and also at Manchester Metropolitan University and Liverpool John Moore’s University.


In Depth

Having studied my literature degree at Manchester, I became interested in comedy and laughter, not just in literature but in film, TV, and in general social life.  My interest is in the various ways that laughter can be used to produce things and affect people – the way it can be used to make people think and act in certain ways. Take someone like Boris Johnson for instance – and the way that we are all supposed to think of him as a silly old fool:





Newspapers and media productions which see themselves as liberal and critical of Boris and his right-wing ways all love to mock and joke about what an idiot he is. Take this example from The Huffington Post.

I look at how these approaches are often more complex than they seem. In Boris’s case for instance, he knows exactly what he is doing in painting himself in this way. Much like George Bush, who made jokes about his own silly Bushisms, Boris is ‘in on the joke.’ What Bush and Boris are doing is making a split – a split between the silly old sod who makes stupid mistakes and embarrasses himself publicly and the clever politician capable of seeing the funny side and doing serious and intelligent thinking and policy making. The sillier and stupider Boris makes himself seem to us, the most we are forced to assume that there must be another Boris – the serious and real politician. His silliness and use of joking makes it appear as though he is really a serious and successful man. Analysing the role of laughter in our world can reveal important political tricks and realities like this.

The other side of my work is a project to bridge the gap between academia and the rest of the world.  I run a collective project called Everyday Analysis which analyses everything from Justin Bieber to Angry Birds and The Gruffalo. On the blog and in our books, we analyse books, TV, film, toys, games, posters, signs, political acts and literally anything which can tell us something about the way we live in our society. We think some of the most important texts of our world are not those considered ‘highbrow’ or ‘art’ but are popular and everyday things that we engage with, usually without thinking  about critically.




Going Further

Have a look at the blog and follow us on Twitter or Facebook

My main project is available here.

There is also a book available here

You can see a bit more about studying laughter and jokes in a literary context here at the Journal of Victorian Culture. 

And you might also find the Everyday Sexism project interesting.